Interview: Rob Laidlaw

Rob Laidlaw and I used to be colleagues in the animal protection field a long time ago. We lost contact for many years and I’m so happy that we have recently resumed contact. He’s now an award-winning author. And I just read one of his books, “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts”, a book on animal sanctuaries and rescue centres.

Those of us in animal protection sometimes are surrounded by news and images of immense cruelty. This book helps us take a different perspective – a hopeful one. It is healing and restores our faith in people. It is also a great book to teach compassion to children.  It is full colour and full of endearing photos of the animals.

Rob shares many stories of how animals who were in danger or suffering were rescued and now live a much better life. I love the story of Little Pig who fell off a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse and is now in Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. And the story of Maggie, the elephant, whose family was killed and who was then sent to a zoo. After another elephant died, Maggie was alone. Rob shares how in 2007, Maggie was lying on one side and couldn’t get up.  She was finally sent to Performing Animal Welfare Society in 2008, where she is with other elephants.

I’m glad Rob warms us to not be taken in by entities which claim to be sanctuaries but which aren’t. And also points us to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Here’s a short interview I did with Rob.

 

Q: Among your various books, you say you like the sanctuary book best? Tell me more. 

A: My sanctuary book was a bit of a departure from my other books in that it focused less on the problems of wildlife in captivity and more on some of the solutions. I think it’s a positive book that demonstrates that it’s possible to have a more humane and equitable relationship with animals, even animals in captivity, in a way that doesn’t exploit or diminish them and that puts their interests as the highest priority. I think it’s important to remember that and to try to learn lessons from good sanctuaries and apply what we’ve learned to animals in all kinds of other situations.

Q: You documented animal suffering for decades. What made you turn your attention to those doing good for animals?

A: I’ve seen many people in the animal protection movement lose sight of the fact that you can’t always be negative. With the sheer scale of animal suffering I think it’s easy to fall into that way of thinking, but sometimes you also need to think about the good that has happened, even if only at the level of individual animals. We all have to realize that sometimes if we think more positively about how to approach the problems that animals face and offer some solutions then we can push forward faster with an animal protection agenda. I think the best sanctuaries do that and that’s why I wanted to highlight them.

Q: How did research for the sanctuary book impact you?

A: Even though I don’t usually show it, I’m always affected by animals. While I was visiting sanctuaries prior to writing this book I was more amazed than ever how forgiving the animals were. Some of them had come from the most horrendous backgrounds imaginable, yet they were curious, friendly, playful and engaging. Seeing them that way after all they’ve been through motivated me to work harder to try to help animals.

Q: When you recall your time in the sanctuaries, which animal do you remember the most? What was its story?

A: I remember many of the animals. I find all of them memorable in their own way. One group of animals that I clearly recall are a group horses at a California sanctuary. They came from a variety of different backgrounds. Some were seized by the authorities because they were being badly abused, while others had been abandoned. Those horses had formed bonds and friendships with each other and it was a delight to watch them and see how much they relied on each other for comfort and security.

 

The bears at an Indian bear sanctuary also stick out in my memory. After horrendous lives on the street, some of them existing in dire circumstances for decades, they were enjoying life in large forested enclosures and were doing all kinds of bear things. It was amazing to see them foraging, digging and even climbing trees, just like their wild counterparts would. For some of those bears, I wouldn’t have thought they could recover to that extent. It goes to show we should never give up on any captive animal. If we have a chance to give them a better life, we should make every attempt to do just that. I have many similar kinds of memories.

Photo credit: Rob Laidlaw.

Thank you, Rob, for sharing!

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~ This book was a shift for Rob. He used a different lens to look at animals and contribute to their welfare. Could your own work do with a new approach? An approach that may be more appreciative or healing?

~ Teachers, parents, travelers – why not visit an animal sanctuary and learn of the stories of healing and transformation that have happened? It will help the animals and yourselves more than visiting entities that profit from animal suffering. Visit the GFAS site. Not all sanctuaries are open to visitors. Please check directly with the sanctuaries.

If you’re in Asia, visit Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.  I’ve met Lek and she’s a very courageous woman dedicated to elephants.

~ You can buy “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts” at Books Depository which has free shipping. Please recommend that your local and school libraries get a copy. 

 – Check out Zoocheck Canada, an organisation that Rob co-founded. 

– This interview was done for my new page, For Those Serving Animals. If you like it, press the “like” button and we can stay connected there. Please share with fellow animal advocates and other supporters of animals. Thank you.